Gardening: Fill In the Summer Gaps

Cary, NC – After the rush of Spring, the garden can develop some awkward empty spaces. Here are a few tips for filling in the summer gaps.

As the warmth of spring turns to the heat of summer, early bloomers in the garden fade. Here and there, plants succumb to pests or age or disease, or just disappear underground to sleep for another year. The fullness of spring always gives way to a few holes in the summer garden.

Confession: I used to ignore the garden during the summer (except for watering, of course). “Let it be what it will be,” I used to say.

But I have reformed my ways. Without much work, I can fill in those gaps in the garden, enhancing my summer landscape and setting up a beautiful autumn.

Summer Gardening Time: Early Morning or Late Afternoon

July offers 14 hours of daylight in Cary, NC. On July 1 (this Friday), the sun comes up at 6:03 AM and sets at 8:35 PM. Plenty of time for gardening.

Even if you like the burning heat of midday, your plants don’t. Tender roots dry out fast; watering evaporates in the hot air.

I like summer gardening in the evening. You can accomplish a lot from 7-8 PM without working up too much of sweat. But others enjoy the cool and quiet of the morning.

Filling in the Gaps: Annuals

Annuals, of course, only live until winter. But, they bloom the whole time.

You can generally get Marigolds and Petunias all through the summer at the garden store. They are good for a low spot (like the front of a bed) in a sunny exposure.


Petunias like summer sun, grow quickly and produce flowers through fall in white, pink and purple.

Shade plants grow more slowly, but Begonias and Coleus add a pop of vibrant color for the middle of the bed. Impatiens produce an abundance of small flowers through the fall.


Begonias are an annual that grows quickly and blooms fast for a shady spot in the garden.


Perennial plants return year after year. Their bloom may last a month, or even three, but they are not as prolific as annuals.

In the heat of summer, it’s best to focus on plants that like it hot. Save the planting of bulbs and shrubs for the Fall.

Sedum comes in seemingly dozens of varieties, from very small to 24 inches or more in height. A succulent plant in the Crassulaceae family, Sedum likes it hot and will thrive in the summer garden. (Note: some smaller varieties can spread like weeds; stay away from anything labeled “vigorous”).


Sedum likes it hot and dry.

Other good perennials for summer fill-ins in a sunny spot include Coreopsis, Asters, Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susans. For a big spot, consider a Butterfly Bush. It’s an open, airy shrub which can grow to six feet or more with long, spiky trusses of flowers that (yes) attract butterflies.


Coreopsis, also called Tickseed.


Mixed bed with Coneflowers and Lillies.

If your garden has a gap in a shady spot, consider planting a Hosta. The come from very small (five or six inches) to substantial (three-by-three inches). They are remarkable in the shade garden for their dramatic shape and large, green and white leaves.


Hostas love the shade, come in a variety of sizes and come back year after year (perennial).

For a bigger spot in the shade, try a Hydrangea. They grow quickly, have attractive small green leaves, and will produce a fabulous bloom of blue, pink or white flowers for you next spring. Hydrangeas can grow four-by-four feet or larger.


Hydrangeas love shade and form a medium-sized shrub with giant, puffy flowers in the spring.

Throw a Pot In It

For middle-of-the-bed gaps in your summer garden, put in a tall pot planted with a brace of colorful annuals.

Small pots don’t work well because they dry out too quickly. But larger pots (18 inches or more) hold more water and allow plants to grow longer roots.

Make sure your pot has drainage. Drag it over while it is empty – bring the potting soil on a second trip. If the pot is full of dirt, use two people.

Repurposed Object

Use a piece of sculpture to fill in the summer gaps in your garden. You can try moving something you already have to a new place or hit the summer flea markets and pick up a new piece.

The summer flea markets, and your own home, are great places to find a repurposed object to fill in the gaps in the garden.

We have an old push-lawnmower rusting up against a tree in a shady spot. Elsewhere, a spray-painted mailbox stands upright behind some creeping juniper, sprouting a few tufts of Sedge.


An old, claw-foot bathtub makes a good planter for a big spot. But an old toilet is never good. Never.

Story and photos by Hal Goodtree. The Gardening column is sponsored by Garden Supply Company on Old Apex Road in Cary.